Has PBS Become a Front for Big Pharma?

A PBS Frontline documentary argues that supplements are useless—relying on “expert testimony” from paid Pharma representatives.
Last week, PBS’s Frontline aired an hour-long program titled “Supplements and Safety.” Jointly produced by Frontline, the New York Times, and the Canadian Broadcasting Commission, the program was clearly intended to leave viewers with the one-sided impression that dietary supplements are unregulated, unsafe—and that ultimately you, the consumer, should not have the right to stay healthy in a manner of your choosing.
There is too much to comment on in this corrupt documentary. But we’ll address a few key points.

Medical Establishment Says Supplements are Useless!

The overarching narrative of one especially egregious segment was that supplementation of any sort is unnecessary and does not impart any benefits—and worse, that it may even be dangerous.
For example, the documentary has longtime natural health foe and vaccine millionaire Dr. Paul Offit explaining that one 1000 milligram tablet of vitamin C is equivalent to eating “seven or eight entire cantaloupes,” and that this is bad because the body was not meant to eat so much. Never mind that this says nothing about how many milligrams might be required for certain individuals to achieve optimal nutrition, nor that a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that food alone does not provide enough nutrients to the human body! Considering also that 93% of Americans are nutrient deficient, how does Dr. Offit propose we correct nutrient imbalances?
With respect to C, he also skips over the abundant scientific evidence that early humans, when everyone lived in a tropical environment, consumed much more C than we do today (which means our bodies evolved to handle C in abundance). We need to consume our vitamin C, unlike most animals whose bodies simply make it as needed, often in very large quantities.
As for vitamin D, other “experts” were lined up to argue that any dose higher than the antiquated, absurdly low 600 IU recommendation from the ponderously conservative Institute of Medicine (IOM) is not only “not beneficial,” it may even be harmful—a claim that is patently bogus.
An old editorial titled “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements”—which was based on three studies which even conventional practitioners have dismissed as flawed and inconclusive—was resurrected to further bolster the documentary’s case (see our detailed rebuttal to this editorial here).
Fish oil was specifically targeted, with claims that almost no clinical studies have shown a benefit to consuming fish oil supplements—an astoundingly false claim, considering the vast preponderance of scientific evidence to the contrary. Fish oil has been found to be so beneficial, in fact, that Big Pharma has patented expensive fish oil-derived drugs (more on this below).
The pretext for all of this, of course, is to undermine the credibility of supplements and to make the case that more regulation and oversight is required—ostensibly, a pre-approval system similar to the one suggested by supplement foes Sens. Durbin (D-IL) and Blumenthal (D-CT). What is not mentioned in the Frontline piece is how profoundly such a system would infringe upon the rights of millions of Americans who rely on dietary supplements to maintain and optimize their health. It would drive the cost of supplements through the roof, which would then sweep them off the shelves and into the hands of drug companies.
The Frontline piece propagates the false notion that supplement users are only using supplements to treat or prevent diseases. This is an incomplete and misleading picture. Many consumers of supplements are just trying to bolster their overall health in combination with diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices. The integrative community knows there’s no “magic pill” for health, and therefore strives for holistic solutions. However, the medical establishment seems to believe that Americans should not have the freedom to stay healthy the way they choose. Instead, Americans should stay healthy in a manner the medical establishment chooses—that is, in a way that lines the coffers of pharmaceutical companies and the doctors on their payroll.

Supplement Safety—Same Old Story

Other segments perpetuated the same lies we’ve heard many times before from the likes of Sens. Durbin and Blumenthal, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and others. The documentary writers highlight a few supplements containing adulterated (illegal) ingredients that led to adverse reactions, holding these illegal products up as examples of why the industry needs more regulation. As we’ve argued time and time again, the FDA has the authority to remove dangerous and illegal products from the market—and actually did so in each instance cited in the documentary, proving once again that the current system works when the FDA enforces the law.
The documentary also fails to highlight the overwhelming safety record of supplements for the millions of Americans who take them every day.

Big Pharma Pulling the Strings

All of this comes into focus, however, in a segment in which fish oil supplements were attacked as being inferior to their pharmaceutical counterparts.
To substantiate these claims, the documentary’s primary expert, Preston Mason, PhD, cuts open fish oil supplements and points out how different they are from a pharmaceutical fish oil drug.
As it turns out, Dr. Mason is very familiar with that particular drug. It’s called Vascepa, and for the past several years he has worked as an advocate for the drug. He even lobbied the FDA on behalf of Amarin Pharma, the drug’s manufacturer, to broaden the uses it was originally approved for. Apparently the producers of the Frontline piece did not think viewers needed to be informed of this conflict of interest.
It gets worse. Immediately following the broadcast, Amarin was ready with a website that highlights the documentary, as well as a media campaign (sponsored by Amarin) that features Dr. Mason and a fellow Vascepa advocate, Eliot Brinton, MD. According to OpenPayments.cms.gov, Dr. Brinton earned $366,698.68 from pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Mason is not a medical doctor, so he is not required, under the Sunshine Act, to make his compensation public.
Was the Frontline documentary a coordinated effort to boost sales of Amarin’s Vascepa by attacking the more popular and affordable competition? The facts speak for themselves.
We also suspect that this documentary could be the opening salvo in renewed attempts by Sens. Durbin and Blumenthal to implement a pre-approval system for supplements, which we are expecting to come out some time this year.
As always, we will closely monitor the happenings in and out of Capitol Hill, and keep you informed of developments.
Other articles in this week’s Pulse of Natural Health:
Massive Vaccine Cover-Up
Nominee for FDA Commissioner Clears Another Hurdle


  1. Thanks so much for posting this. I could not bear to watch the program. This series did the same hatchet job on raw milk a couple of years ago. I don’t have a problem with balanced coverage even though I don’t agree with a lot of critics. But this and the other show were clearly one-sided smears.
    I am a sustaining member of my public television station. I want to write them and had planned to look at your information so I could put together relevant comments. I also want to send another email to PBS and, possibly, the Frontline show.

  2. Of course PBS, The New York Times, the CBC, and the whole politically correct establishment, which smears anyone who questions the dominant ideology as dreaded “conspiracy” theorist. The whole edifice is rotten to the core.

  3. How dare you to stay healthy? The primary objective of the “healthcare” industry is for you to get just sick enough (not to die but) to require their “livesaving” (read symptom suppressing but absolutely not curative) expensive drugs for the rest of your life (at an ever-increasing expense, I might add. Martin Shrekil is not alone in his jack-the-price philosophy.)
    “If living were a thing that money could buy,
    You know the rich would live and the poor would die.”
    — Joan Baez in “All My Sorrows”

  4. I used to be a local supporter of PBS and a loyal listener and viewer to a fault, but then advertising began to pollute the message, until the independent voice disappeared and more commercial broadcast came about.
    It is apparent that advertising money has made PBS nothing more than a spokesman for the mainstream. Discrediting supplements is just another indication that money has infected management decisions to tell the real truth. One of the reasons I shun mainstream medicines ( with few exceptions I do use ibuprofen for pain and occasionally an antibiotic) is that hardly a doctor will say what I know to be true, that heavy vitamin use has served me well for most of my 73 years. Of course Big Pharma will do every thing it can to discourage the use of any thing but the medicine they produce and more medicine to counter act the side effects of each medicine in an endless chain. One of the reasons we do not have a cure for cancer is because it would destroy a $trillion industry in chemo therapy and devices to extract parts of our bodies and the money each pharmaceutical company gets free from the Federal Government for research to find cures for cancer.
    The whole pharmaceutical industry is a fraud as it dismisses holistic medicine in nearly in its entirety (a good example is the money they use to discourage the use of cannabis a proven holistic way to prevent the side effects of Chemo.) I know for a fact that like medicines not every supplement or holistic treatment works for everyone. However, it has worked for me with acupuncture making a chronic back and neck pain all but disappear. I know most seniors are caught up as prisoners to the latest miracle drug and for many if not most a total reliance on their prescriptive needs. Sadly, PBS has joined in the windfall that Pharmaceutical advertising has gifted them with along with all the Doctors who enjoy their free trips to various world vacations under the guise of education. Sadly this works badly for all, but if we allow the FDA who are nothing more than a well paid pawn to strip us from our free choice of supplement use, then our protection that is supposed to be guaranteed by this organization will be completely gone.

  5. There is no doubt that extreme bias ran throughout the show. It’s also obvious that the CBC production and directing crew, including Gillian Findlay have no nutrition, health, medicine or research background (I did several searches). They also used Anahad O’Connor, who has often written all those anti-supplement articles for the NY TImes (he studied psychology but no nutrition, science or research either)! His articles are shallow, press-release articles. Frontline had a huge tilt in the interviews too. The anti-supplement interviews were 10-12 people compared to just 2 pro-supplement people(Adam Ismail and Fabricant of the NPA), who were often challenged in their comments.
    I’ve written to Frontline and you can find their e-mail with a quick search. For those who don’t realize it, Frontline/PBS are partially funded by the CPB, which gets $400-500 million in taxpayer funds annually. Feel free to contact your congressional reps to complain. PBS has guidelines for balance, fairness, accuracy, etc., but that all-Canadian crew seems immune to such journalistic requirements. BTW, that same CBC crew had another anti-supplement show (from last November) retracted and the video is unavailable. Some testing they used in that report was erroneous. When science amateurs go on camera, that’s what happens!

  6. What good are supplements when they are not what they say they are? What is wrong with you people? At the very least, the FDA has the obligation to ensure that what we are being sold is precisely what the seller says it is. You cannot be arguing to the contrary, that fraud be allowed in the name of anti-regulation.
    Humans evolved without supplements and so all of our nutritional needs can indeed be met with the need for supplementation. However, if a person doesn’t have a good, well rounded diet, then supplementation may be required, but that is not the same as needing it. So, labels should be allowed only state confirmed facts, not conjecture. Truth in advertising is a consumer right.
    While there is a problem with Big Pharma, let’s not go paranormal here.

    1. That is your opinion. I have used supplements for decades to stay healthy. I want to have the choice. As the article points out, there are already laws to deal with tainted supplements and to remove dangerous supplements from the market. What more do you want, except to take away my choice?

    2. Humans did evolve without supplements …. back in a time when soil was rich with nutrients; before man came along and depleted it with toxins from chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, as well as polluting the environment, etc. Our food supply today is not even remotely what it used to be, and supplements are just that: they help supplement what was/is lost.
      We are also more knowledgeable now, and know what herbs and supplements can be helpful, what can heal, and what can prevent many ills and diseases.
      Like everything else, there are good supplement companies and bad. One must do their research, ask questions, know the sourcing, and contact these companies if necessary.

    3. The regulations already exist in Title 21 of the US Code. There are not enough employees of the FDA Supplement Division to audit all companies. (More than 4,000) Supplement drug like claims are already illegal. The question is, why does the FDA give the good supplement manufacturers such a hard time to maintain regulatory compliance, with inconsistent enforcement standards from one inspector to another, but then ignore the really bad apples (manufacturers) in the bunch, until there are public health complaints and injuries ?

    4. Supplements do not need more regulating. The efficacy of vitamins and minerals, especially, has been conclusively researched for decades.
      If you’re concerned about mislabeling, that’s already against the law. No manufacturer can lie about its products’ contents/ingredients.
      Paranormal? I think you missed the point of this article.

    5. I have 30 years experience and study for health, nutrition, supplements and research. The points and concerns being raised here are legitimate. That Frontline show was one of the most biased and slanted I’ve ever seen (and it clearly fails PBS’s requirements for fairness, balance, journalistic integrity, accuracy, etc.).
      I doubt that anyone here is happy with those few companies who don’t keep good records or follow cGMPs, but the show focused on a few companies who’s products were already off the market based on FDA actions, while simultaneously claiming the industry is unregulated (pure nonsense). I’ve worked on he hundreds of pages needed for a submission package required by the FDA, including all claims, labels, ingredients, studies to back those claims, and adverse event phone number, etc. The ignorance of people who constantly claim that supplements are unregulated is ridiculous, but docs and media make those claims all the time. The FDA and FTC have many hundreds of pages of regs!
      Other claims the show made (actually all produced and directed by staff from the CBC in Canada), were based on poor or inappropriate science, exaggeration, manipulation, etc. in the last few days, I’ve uncovered significant conflicts of interest with one of the so-called experts (actually, several of their experts have them). In short, PBS is being used to help market pharmaceutical fish oil (I found the Amarin site info today, and they indeed reference Frontline and PBS in their marketing info)!
      There are many thousands of well-run, ethical supplement companies which the show never once mentioned. With Frontline, the exceptions prove the rule. The show was garbage! That’s our legitimate complaint.

  7. I am so pleased to see this article. I recorded the Frontline documentary but could only watch about 10 minutes before it became obvious it was pharma-funded propaganda and complete nonsense. So I deleted it. I am not going to stop watching PBS but that’s the last Frontline I tune in to.

  8. I have heard that many prescription medicines that in 2015 were affordable, will become unaffordable to 99% of Americans. I suggest PBS focus on the no-holds-barred advertising of prescription medications in the mainstream media by Big Pharma. The American public should Not have to pay exorbitant fees to big pharmaceutical companies for advertising and influence: e.g.. lobbyists on the Hill, sales pitches to medical offices and medical conferences, and the endless stream of advertising, in all forms, in magazines, newspapers, on the internet, radio and television. I suggest an additional investigation of up-to-date nutritional training required by the US Board of Physicians.

  9. I haven’t watched any shows concerning news or documentaries on a PBS station for many years. They have, to my mind, been the shill of big government and big business for a long time. It is nice to have the concerts, theater and hobby shows on but that’s where they should stop.

  10. Big Pharma is aware of the money they are losing by supposedly ”unregulated supplements.” There are many reputable companies providing high quality, standardized, supplements. For the most part, people are educating themselves and rely less on information provided by physicians, the FDA or stories such as the ones Frontline presents. The pharmaceutical industry is out of control as illustrated by the ads on television. “As your doctor,” “may cause….” Pharmaceuticals are a HUGE industry, relatively unregulated or standardized and reaping an enormous amount of money for not “curing” any illness, only masking the symptoms and causing more damage to other areas of the body. Eat whole foods, no GMOs, omit as much sugar and processed foods as possible, take and measure your Vitamin D3 continuously to be sure levels are 60-70, and meditate. I plan to stop my contributions to PBS. Why should I contribute to “public” television when they are “bought” by the wealthy: David Koch, FOX News (Rupert Murdoch), oil and gas industries, etc.

  11. Now can we talk about how many people die each year taking the right medicine for the right problem by the right MD….200,000. Where is the Frontline on that!!

  12. Doesn’t it just make blood squirt from your eyes?! I saw the announcement of this program, knew I would not make it through without throwing something at the TV, so, didn’t watch it. Hope they don’t expect any money from me!

  13. As someone else says here, “follow the money.” I looked at the Frontline list of funders but Big Pharma companies are noticeably absent. Since these companies have funded all the major medical journals, most news media and other PBS series, and seem to have a stranglehold on editorial opinion in much medical thought, it stands to reason that they would also fund Frontline. There are many agencies on that list of funders I have never heard of. Some of them may be agencies that front for Big Pharma. Reporters should do a bit of homework on this list.

  14. Frontline was a stellar one-of-a-kind show that really garnered a lot of respect from me as unbiased, cutting edge and expository. To read these comments on this particular program saddens me greatly. It is the backlash of becoming scared that PBS will lose government funding that causes its own meek program producers and underwriting personnel to flounder when it should remain solid it its traditions of journalistic integrity.

  15. PBS and NPR were both captured by corporate interests long ago, although they still attempt to maintain the illusion of populism. Complaining to them will be useless. They really don’t even need your donations anymore, so don’t donate until/unless they drastically change their business model. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that.

  16. After watching that program “Supplements and Safety” here is one of the most disturbing quotes from the show as they compared pharmaceutical products to vitamin and mineral supplements “drug makers have to prove their product is safe” wink, wink, nod, nod. Oh yes of course, very safe, as long as you don’t take them…

  17. AMA and their hypocritical double talk. How come their precious magical placebos aren’t dragged through the dirt? Wouldn’t a placebo in a primary package be more effective? Primary medicine comes from the Field Of Herbs; AMA is the alternative medicine.

  18. Hey all! another update on Preston Mason’s conflicts of interest. Yes, he has done research for Vascepa and he received research grants (plural) from Amarin. As a PhD and lipid researcher, no doubt he is well-paid. Indeed, I found their fish-oil danger/Frontline pitch when I clicked on Amarin’s Product/FAQ Page!
    Mason is also a Member of the Advisory Board at Cardax Pharmaceuticals. Cardex makes another competing cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory drug based on astaxanthin, a carotenoid found in fish and shellfish (fish oil also demonstrates anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects in many studies). Of course, those conflicts were never mentioned in the show.
    Plus, I found the so-called study mentioned in the Frontline show Mason did (very hard to find). It’s not in any regular medical journals, Pubmed or google that I could find. It was a symposium presentation and he only studied 6 fish oil samples (there are hundreds of manufacturers now)!
    The bias and corruption in this program is breathtaking! Please e-mail Frontline and express your complaints and also to your congressional reps for the use of public money to attack legitimate business, health research and health choice in the U.S.

  19. Again and again I see headlines make a statement of fact and yet questioning it themselves by ending it in a question mark rather than PERIOD! What’s with all the “will be’s” and question marks, when the facts are already in evidence?

  20. Where is the automatic alert to send letters to both PBS and Frontline? We need you to please get these ready for us to send. Local PBS stations as well as the national should be written to.

  21. Amarin Pharma removed the popup window promoting the PBS Frontline documentary from the VASCEPA website, but you can see the same popup window at http://www.lowermytrigs.com/, a website which was funded and developed by Amarin. The text in the popup window begins as follows: “As reported in The New York Times® and seen on PBS’ Frontline…Certain experts are concerned about the content and quality of dietary fish oil supplements. VASCEPA® (icosapent ethyl), on the other hand, is a ≥96% pure EPA omega-3 prescription product derived from natural fish oil…”

    1. Wow, great find! I saw that pop-up about a week ago while I was investigating this whole mess. It was gone the next day. Amarin also has an FAQ section with similar marketing content but it’s much longer.
      I got a screen shot of your pop-up. I think that pawn-show guy is a pitchman for Amarin! As the Ombudsman for PBS (supposedly an unbiased person) accepted Frontline’s nonsense response to my and other’s complaints, I started a scathing debunking for Frontline and O’Connor’s biased, slanted writing and program. Thanx for that link! 🙂

  22. Is tpt affliated with PBS? I am a supporting member and am able to watch PBS as well. TPT is twin cities. Please can someone answer? I will write to the proper person, if I can get the name. And if no changes are made I will discontinue membership and monthly payments. ALSO National Geographic was bought by a man that does not believe in climate change, fired all writers and has his team. SO sad as I subscribed to magazine. No longer will documentaries be the same.! THANK YOU DR for this informative article.

  23. I play a game when listening to NPR stories on health … how long does the story run before it is 1) evidently a hit piece on natural approaches to health, and/or 2) a pro-corporate/pharma/mainstream medicine front piece. The graphic for the online “health” series is a syringe, for heaven’s sake.

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